by Bob Walters | August 01, 2008

For conferences that involve education sessions, one of the most time-consuming and detail-oriented processes is managing all of the submissions for possible presentations. After the call for papers goes out, planners can become inundated with proposals for all manner of presentations, lectures and educational sessions. The review process is daunting: Planners first must ensure the proposals meet the minimum requirements for submission, and then narrow down the candidates to the select few that will make the conference a success.

Luckily there are many services and solutions to help you solicit, process, approve, and accept proposals for your sessions and presentations.

Some association management and meeting registration systems have integrated solutions that function well and can meet the needs of most organizations. But if you really need to manage a robust program, you might require one of the following.

Oasis (Coe-Truman Technologies Inc.; is a full-featured management system that handles everything from the call for papers to publishing the proceedings. The program also has components for tracking continuing education credits. A database-driven product, Oasis affords considerable flexibility in output options.

Confex (Conference Ex-change; provides abstract management tools as well as two additional services. Virtual Expo allows attendees to preview exhibitors and tag those they want to visit, and then build everything into one schedule or agenda; Podium lets you assemble and record presentations to make them available online or on DVD for future reference and/or revenue generation.

Abstract Central (Scholar One Inc.; has three components: Abstract Central for managing submissions, review and publishing; Manuscript Central for managing and publishing journals, books and other publications; and Proceeding Central, which encompasses submissions, presentation materials, payments and grant management.

eShow 2000 (Netronix Corp.; offers a full start-to-finish management system that includes abstract management, registration, exhibit management and the provision of a conference website.

What to Shop For

Because these systems offer many of the same basic features and functionality, it is important that you determine the ancillary features you require -- as well as your budget -- to select the product that is best for you.

Do you want to provide on-site kiosks and detailed agenda printing? Do you want to publish the materials as a journal to be sold afterward, either online or in print? Do you want to combine the abstracts and presentation materials with streaming video and audio on a DVD? Does your meeting include an exhibit hall where you would want a consolidated solution so attendees can search abstracts and exhibitor services online to create an agenda?

In some instances, you might want to use the final program materials to create online courses or presentations. Attendees could access those as a refresher before taking related tests and qualifying for continuing education credits. Or, you could make the materials available to nonattendees on a pay-per-view basis.

When evaluating these systems, look at the big picture: What do you need for the show, and how do you want to use the selected presentations afterwards? The unique materials associated with your programs may be what sets you apart from other sources of information. Think about the long-term value the collected content can bring to your organization.

Bob Walters,based in Ann Arbor, Mich., is founder of Phoenix Solutions and developer of MeetingTrak Software.